Prepositional phrases at the end of a sentence can often be cut. They are the superfluous directives that we sneak in out of insecurity to make sure the reader gets what just happened.
This one is best illustrated by example. Read the sentences and see if you can get the feel for when it’s unnecessary to remind the reader where everyone and everything physically is. Sometimes the directive is absolutely necessary, but often, it comes as repetition of positions or placements that were already noted. Which ones do you like best? Are there other ways to trim them?
I stepped back and leaned against the wall behind me.
I stepped back and leaned against the wall.
She snorted and tossed her hair back over her shoulder.
She snorted and tossed her hair back.
She snorted and tossed her hair.
I stamped my foot and stormed out through the door in one wall.
I stamped my foot and stormed out through the door.
I stamped my foot and stormed out.
The wind ruffled the skirts of the flowered dress she wore.
The wind ruffled the skirts of her flowered dress.
The wind ruffled her flowered dress.
This is common thing a lot of new writers do, and even if you’re a seasoned vet, it’s still going to happen in your manuscript. Learn to look for it on edits. Train yourself to scan each sentence for unnecessary directives and trim them.
In many cases the tighter sentence will read stronger. Sometimes you’ll chose to keep the extra words, but at least considering the trim can lead to tighter fiction and more space for better words.
It’s hard to resist the urge to say something twice. In particular, authors like to repeat themselves if they can say something more ways than one, and especially if they think that thing is really important or that their word usage is terribly clever. Resist this temptation, and you will be well on the way to tighter writing.
Readers know when an author is repeating, even when the author doesn’t. They also don’t like feeling like they are being talked down to. It is far better to give the reader credit for “getting it” the first time around. If you state your case clearly and concisely, then trust that your audience is smart enough to figure out what just happened.
Making sure by repeating, will not fool the reader, and it just might offend them. And offended reader, one who feels the author is insulting their intelligence, is the last thing you want.
It was dark in the room. The lights were off, and I couldn’t see my own feet.
See how many times can you say, it was dark? At least three, apparently. I’d picked the most active one and kill the other two.
I couldn’t see my own feet.
That gives me eleven words I can use to do something more exciting. See if you can kill the repetitions in these passages…
Gerald grunted and heaved, lifting the crate. It weighed a ton. He groaned and hefted it onto the table.
The night sky sparkled with bright stars. No clouds drifted tonight, and each jewel shone clearly enough to count.
I paced the corridor, back and forth. Each time I looked at the clock, my stomach fluttered. I was nervous. My pulse jumped and I spun and turned for another pass.
Anything you’d trim above? Think about economy and what is absolutely necessary and give it a try.
This one is a little trickier to define. It’s also one that I struggle with a lot. Because we work with words and love playing with them, authors often end up phrasing things in unusual or original ways. Which is a good thing…until it’s not.
Nothing is more lovely than an original twist of language, but when the quirky wording makes the meaning ambiguous, vague or outright confusing, it’s time to take a hard look at what you’re trying to get across and, if possible, admit that clarity trumps artistry nine times out of ten.
I still let the muse free during the drafting phase, but when it comes to editing, polishing and revising, I’ve learned to watch for bouts of overly fancy wording. There’s no simple exercise for this one, and it’s sneaky too. For me, it took working with a really good editor for a few years straight to learn which of my bouts of poetry she was most likely to axe… and with good reason.
Nine times out of ten, when I’m tossing in convoluted or fancy phrases, the best fix is to just delete them. Kill your darlings, they say. Even if then smell of poetry.